In my mind, there’s nothing more American than a good ‘ol hamburger. And yet no other food item is subject to more variation than the good ‘ol hamburger. From fast food “discs”, some of which are good, to a fantastic, big ‘ol greasy burger at your favorite pub (best served with an ice cold beer), and of course, home grilled burgers, I don’t think there’s any food item that is more subject to individual interpretation than the hamburger.
Celebrity chefs of course put their own stamp on them – every chef from Bobby Flay to Julia Child has made their burger recipes their own way. Gordon Ramsey even has his own chain of burger restaurants, called Burger, of course. Dean Martin even famously published his personal burger recipe back in the 1970s!
So this all said, OF COURSE I have a couple of great burger recipes up my sleeve. I’m not saying this is the only way to do it, but I do have to say that when I get it right, which is most of the time, my friends and family rave over my burgers. I do have to admit to taking some technique hints from the celeb chefs, especially Gordon Ramsey and also Nigella Lawson, but like everything, your personal style is always the sum of your influences. So this all said, here’s what I do:
It all starts with ground beef, and I like to use ground chuck, 80/20% lean to fat ratio. I have say, if you have the time and the equipment (and the equipment is a proper meat grinder), grinding your own fresh hamburger gives absolutely sublime results. I will do a post about this another day though as that can cover more than I want to write here. Good ‘ol supermarket 80/20 ground chuck is my go to here.
A lot of folks mix a lot of crap into their burgers. Not me. I don’t add sauces, seasonings, binders, etc. to the beef. Good quality 80/20 chuck doesn’t need it. I will occasionally do it, but not for my best effort, most purely good burger.
Forming and Pattying:
I like a 5.25 oz pre-cooked weight burger. It’s the right size for the appetite I have these days, and it’s thick/massive enough to still cook nicely and allow you to leave it to your desired temperature. I portion the meat out in pre-weighed balls, then wearing nitrile gloves (this helps keep the heat of your hands from melting the fat the meat), I flatten the balls down to half-inch thick patties. Finally after the patty has been placed on the platter to go to the grill, I use my thumb to create an indentation in the center of the patty. This helps keep the burgers at an even thickness as they cook up.
I roll simple here. A generous sprinkle of kosher salt, and a good grind of freshly ground pepper is all you need. And you can even do without the pepper, honestly. Just do the one side that’s up right now, you’ll season the other side at the grill.
Believe it or not, my go to for burger cooking is the gas grill. Burgers cook fast, you usually want them quickly, so … it’s my go-to. But I have a couple of good hints for you. And I will mention charcoal and a pellet grill at the end of the article.
I like to preheat the grill to the medium setting on all three burners for about 15 minutes – my burner gets to about 500 degrees in that time. This is where it’s important to know your gear – but 450-500 degrees seems to be the magic number to hit.
I have a couple of techniques here for you, so roll with me here.
The Grill: If I’m just simply grilling on the grill grates, then I put them indentation side up on the grill and immediately turn my middle burner down to low – there’s still plenty of heat but this makes it far more controllable. I close the lid and set a timer for 4 minutes. At 4 minutes, I open the lid, flip them over, season that side with just salt, and close the lid. This time the timer gets 3 minutes. At the end of the 3 minutes, I open the lid, put on the cheese, close the lid and go for 30 more seconds. Then off onto the platter and ready to serve. This yields a perfect, medium rare burger for me – pink and juicy in the center. Amazing.
The Flattop or Cast Iron Skillet Method: I own a couple of flattop grilling things – a cast iron griddle and a stainless flattop, as well as something called “Grill Grates” which are aluminum grates to put on your grill for better searing (more about these in a different post). Any/all of these are great to do a burger on. Same methods all above apply – just put the flat top item or cast iron skillet on the grill when you preheat, and again, use your medium heat setting. Same timing of the burger as well.
Cheese: Well for the son of a cheesemaker to say this (sorry Dad!), my fave is American cheese – but not Kraft Singles. I like to buy it in the deli section of the grocery store and I get it cut slightly thicker. Blue cheese is fantastic, as is cheddar, gouda, swiss and more. But for my perfect burger, it’s American for me.
For buns, my favorite buns are grocery store bakery-made brioche buns, although both S. Rosen and Pepperidge Farm make amazing brioche buns. Second place in the bun category would be a good sesame-seeded commercial bun. And of course dark rye bread is amazing too. If doing buns (versus dark rye which I like toasted for a burger), I like to mix up some garlic butter – just add a couple of cloves of minced garlic to a half-stick of softened salted butter and mix well – then spread the buns with the butter. I like the buns toasted, so I put them on the grill to toast during the pre-heat phase. They toast in like 30 seconds per side.
Toppings: I’m kind of a purist for my burger, so I really don’t put much on it – maybe a little mustard and mayo on the bun, and then I like to dip each bite in ketchup. Robin (my wife) loves a lettuce/tomato/raw onion burger, and we both love sauteed/grilled onions on burgers as well. In all of these instances, the fresher and cooler and crisper your add ons, the better.
And that’s it! This is what burger heaven looks like for this guy:
The Rest of The Story:
So, to answer some “whatabouts” that are probably rambling around in your heads:
Smashburgers: Smashburgers are awesome, I love to make them and they are my second-go-to burger method. I’ll do a post on these soon. Same with Patty Melts.
Charcoal Grill: I love a good charcoal grilled burger and if I have the time, I do on occasion fire up the charcoal and make burgers. The primary reason I don’t is the hassle factor. Burgers cook so quickly and it seems like a huge waste of time and fuel to fire up the charcoal kettle for an 8 minute cook. Now if I’m doing a “whole meal on the grill” night (watch for those posts), it’s a different story.
Traeger/Pellet Grill: Truthfully, these don’t get hot enough to do burgers the way I want them cooked. I have heard of and have not tried yet, a low/slow smoked burger method, and when I try that, you’ll be the first to know. Also it takes my Traeger a full 20 minutes to get to 450 on preheating and it feels like it’s straining to make that temp. I can preheat, cook and be eating my burger in less time than that.
Indoors: Cast Iron Skillet is by far the best method. I find the best way is to preheat the skillet in the oven at 400 degrees (maybe also cook some tater tots while you got the oven hot?), then pop it onto the stovetop over medium heat and fry away. Run that vent fan, she’s gonna smoke a bit!
So that’s it, that’s an encapsulation of what I think is the best way to grill up a tasty burger!
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